John Brokett of Caswell Esq
bap 1583 d 1658/9
Imagine growing up in the fine Elizabethan manor house of Mackery End, Wheathampstead, and being 16 or 17 when your father was knighted as the third Sir John Brokett. Then aged 20/21 imagine joining your father the Commander of the Fort of Duncannon in Ireland. Such were John’s early days. Most of his adult life thereafter he was called John Brokett Esquire of Mackery End or of Wheathampstead. Mackery End was in Wheathampstead and Caswell abutted on Mackery End. We mainly identify him by his last home Caswell, to distinguish him from his father Sir John of Mackery End and his older second cousin John of Wheathampstead Esq.
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Aged 20/21 John was implicated with his father in allegations of counterfeiting silver in Ireland. The dynasty had already begun to decline in influence since Sir John II’s death 1598, and John III’s line further suffered from the events in Ireland. Nonetheless Mackery End was not sold till 1628 and in 1634 John of Caswell was the subject of a Heralds’ Visitation. But towards the end of his life, John apparently became less and less well off. He sold his interest in various Wheathampstead lands and spent his latter years at Caswell, a small farm,1 which he said he had difficulty retaining.
In March 1603 20 year-old Lieutenant John Brockett was called as a witness at the inquiry into the alledged counterfeiting of coins in Duncannon Fort, Ireland. He was implicated, but not his younger brother Thomas.2
John married 1st Jane ‘dau and coheir of Edward LACON of Willy, Co Hereford’.3 The 1860 Gateshead Pedigree gave her name as Joan, daughter and heir of Edmond LACON of Wilwyn [Herts], probably correctly with respect to Wilwyn, at least—there is no place Willy in Herefordshire. Children:
- John, bap 29 Jul 1612 Wheathampstead “John Son of Mr John Broket of Mackerie End”.4 John is the only known Gentleman John Brokett who could have married Mary Blackwell in Sandridge 1635.
- Lacon. Married 1634 Beniamin HARE St Giles in the Fields, London.5
“Jane Wife of John Brocket of Mackerells End Esqr.” was buried in St Helen’s Wheathampstead 20 Feb 1621.6 John married 2nd Elizabeth d/o Edmond MORDAUNT of Oakley, Bedfordshire,7 in Oakley 8 Jul 1624.8 Children:
- Edmond, bap 23 Jun 1625 Wheathampstead “Edmond Son of John Brokett of Makrills End”.9 The 1634 Visitation of Herts and the 1860 Gateshead Pedigree mistakenly named him Edward. In all other records found he was clearly called Edmond, e.g. the 1650 Chancery suit, Edmond’s brother John’s Will and indeed Edmond’s own Will. Mother Elizabeth’s father was an Edmond.
- Elizabeth, bap 28 Jun 1626 Wheathampstead. “Elizabeath da. of John Brokett of Makrillsend”.10 She was mentioned in brother John’s Will in 1646.
Some time between 1609 and 1613—Sir Thomas Smyth’s treasurership—John’s father invested by bill of adventure in the Virginia Company.11 His father died in Sep 1613, so the investment would have passed to son John by then. At some point the investment materialised into 200 acres on the Elizabeth River in Norfolk VA, probably used for growing tobacco. How long John kept the land and its proceeds is unknown but in 1639 it was assigned to Henry Watson by Francis Roulston, alias Willcox, to whom John had previously assigned it.12
During his life John obtained and released various lands in and around Wheathampstead:
- On 28 Oct 1609 Isabel Brokett, daughter of Edward Brokett of Wheathampstead, deceased, leased the Manor of Wheathampstead with Harpenden to John Brokett of Mackery End, Esq, son and heir of Sir John Brokett of Mackery End for 99 years.14
- On 12 Jun 1617 John Brokett of Mackery End, Esq surrendered … to John Cutt of Topstreete.15
- “John Brokett of Mackarye Ende in the parishe of Whethampsteed Esquier and Jane his wief” sold 4 parcels of land in Harpenden to Edward Clarke of Cooters End, Harpenden, yeoman on 20 Feb1617/8.16 John signed his first name flambuoyantly:17His same signature survives from 1623 as the first of 5 witnesses to a conveyance of land in Blunham, Bedfordshire:18This was the conveyance of the farmhouse at Southfields in Blunham from Richard Guilman, son and heir of Richard Guilman, Gent, deceased and Ann his wife, daughter of Robert Spencer of St Albans, deceased, to Humphrey Lowe, Gent, Robert Halfpenny and Edward Southey of Staple Inn. The other witnesses were John Ellis, John Burgess, James Ellis and Edward Barratt.
- 1628: “John Brockett of Mackries end Esqr” was due £4 16s on £12 worth of land in the Lay Subsidy of July this year.19
- Mackary End House Wheathampstead, or Mackerells End, had been the home of his father and grandfather and himself until he was 45,20 when John is said to have conveyed the manor to Thomas Levett the day after Ascension Day in the 4th year of the reign of Charles I—May 1628.21 According to the document it was John’s younger brother Thomas who did so, but why this might have been is unclear—perhaps “Thomas” was a scribal dittography following “Thomas Levett”:22Read more
This is the final agreement … between Thomas Levett Esq purchasor and Thomas Brockett Esq vendor of the Manor of Mackeryend with 6 messuages, 10 cottages, 2 watermills, 10 gardens, 10 apple orchards, 800 acres of land, 50 acres of meadow, 120 acres of pasture, 60 acres of wood, 200 acres of gorse and heathland and 5s rent, with appurtenances in Wheathampstead Harpenden & Kimpton … for £900 sterling
The £900 sterling consideration suggests that this fine completed an actual financial transaction. Thomas Levett married John and Thomas’s older sister Margaret around the time of this sale; her previous husband had died 1 Aug 1625. Was Mackary End part of the marriage agreement? Perhaps Margaret had a part interest in the House in her own right, and perhaps lived on there with Levett. In any event Mackery End passed out of Broket ownership with Margaret and her brothers, and who took it over from Levett is not yet known. He is not known to have had children.
- John and his son John conveyed Saunceys to James Ellis in 1638.23
- John spent the last part of his life at Caswell House.24 In the dispute with Samuel Baker it is referred to as: ‘one Messuage called Casswell house with thappertenances and seuerall pieces or parcells of land conteining by estimation two hundred acres of land arable meadow and pasture set lyeing and being in the parishes of Harpeden Kympton and Whethamstead in the said Countye of Hertford’.
- Fireplace graffiti (notes to follow)
3.3. Brocket v Cutts 1650
This was a dispute over some money John had borrowed against some of his property in Wheathampstead. Because of it he was twice briefly imprisoned. His son Edmond was involved. Two documents have been found: John’s Bill of Complaint and William Cutts’ Answer.25
|line||John’s Bill of Complaint||line||William Cutts’ Answer|
|3||1646 JB borrows £15 from WC||3||JB already owes WC £20, making a new total of £35.|
|4||As security, JB gives WC land in W with annual rent of £9 10s.||5f||As security, JB gives WC land in W with annual rent of £6 till £35 paid off, + 8% interest on £35 meanwhile.|
|5||JB & EB enter a bond with WC for £30.||9||JB & EB enter a bond with WC for £60.|
|6f||WC receives rents for 3 years, more than paying off the £15.||11f||WC receives £14 4s 6d.|
|9||WC has JB arrested||13||WC has JB arrested|
|10||WC is arrested because of £20||14||JB has WC arrested|
|10f||Arbitration Jan 1648||18||Arbitration|
|12||JB & WC promise each other £40 surety||19||JB to deliver up the £20 bond|
|14f||JB to pay WC annual rent of £6 + 27s 6d||20f||JB & EB to pay WC annual rent of £6 till debt cleared.|
|15||WC to deliver up the £30 bond||22||WC to deliver up the £60 bond|
|16f||JB to deliver up the £20 bond||25f||EB refuses to pay WC the rents|
|22||WC refuses to deliver up the £30 bond||34||WC has received £4 3s 6d towards another loan to JB of £5.|
|23||Aug 1650 WC has JB arrested again and imprisoned|
|26||WC with others steals 14 acres of wheat worth £40-50 from JB while in prison||37||WC denies stealing any corn from JB|
This was an involved dispute over John’s property in ‘Casswell’ in the 1650s. Three documents have been found but no judgment as yet:27
- JB snr’s Bill of Complaint of 9 Feb 165228
- SB jnr’s Bill of Complaint of 2 Dec 1652, a new suit29
- JB snr’s Plea & Demurrer of 13 Feb 1653 to no.230
Summary and analysisRead more
1. Interpretation of JB snr’s argument in his 9 Feb 1652 Bill of Complaint31
John Brockett snr built Casswell House (line 44) and owned it himself absolutely (‘as of fee’ lines 2,3). In 1638 he had a legally binding deed drawn up settling ownership after his death (lines 5,6). In it he settled Casswell House with about 200 acres of adjoining land on himself till his death, part thereafter to Elisabeth, his wife, till her death (line 6) and part to JB jnr, his eldest son [by his first wife]. Elisabeth’s part was to revert to her stepson JB jnr on her death (line 8). JB snr’s settlement was a free gift. He did it for and in consideration of blood and natural affection and for no other payment. JB snr did not intend to restrict himself or Elisabeth to having to maintain the property at the same value (line 9). He had therefore intended to have the clause ‘without impeachment of waste’ in the deed, but he said that JB jnr influenced the people drawing up the deed into omitting it (lines 10,11).
After signing and sealing the deed JB snr realised the omission and questioned JB jnr (lines 12, 13), who promised him that he wouldn’t take any advantage of the omission and that his father could do what he pleased with the property during his lifetime (line 13). [His stepmother’s lifetime was not mentioned.] But JB snr did nothing to rectify the situation except rely on his son’s assurances that all would be well.
At any rate, JB snr said that he had not been aware that his son then sold his future inheritance in the land to Samuel Baker snr of Hempstead, Esq (line 16). He also claimed that his son parted with it for little if any payment.
According to John snr’s Bill, this sale was probably in 1642 or early 1643, because ‘not long after’ (line 17) SB snr sued a writ of waste against JB snr for cutting down some trees on the property. The writ was issued after Easter in the 18th year of the reign of Charles 1 (line 18), i.e. about April 1643. Samuel Baker’s writ of waste seems to have gone through court without JB snr’s knowledge (line 21), or so he alledged, and damages of £50 were awarded against JB snr. As was customary at the time, these were then trebled to £150 and SB snr was also awarded 106 acres out of the property, the alledged area of waste (lines 21, 22). The following year SB snr sued for execution of this judgement and was awarded an additional 68 acres in lieu of the unpaid £150 (line 24), so he then owned 174 out of about 200 acres. [The remaining 26 acres would probably have been next to the house.]
SB snr died Dec 1644 (line 26) and his part of the property and reversionary interest passed to his son Samuel and to Josias and Faith Martin (line 27). In the ensuing seven years these three are said to have earned about £800 from the property (line 30), while by contrast JB snr claimed that he and his family were reduced to subsisting on the charity of others and were unable to keep the house in good repair (lines 31, 32).
Late in 1651 JB snr won a court action and got the earlier judgments overturned (lines 32,33). This was the result of a Sheriff’s inquisition which also awarded him £516 plus expenses (line 36). Avoiding service of this judgment, SB jnr and Josias Martin refused to make payment and JB snr’s by now ‘extreme poverty’ (line 38) caused his house to fall into disrepair, i.e. waste (line 37). [Judgment having concluded that suit, the holders of the reversionary title could act afresh on the implied impeachment for waste clause.] They issued a second writ against JB snr for alledged waste made on the house in order to gain possession of it (lines 39,40).
JB snr could not enforce them by the common law to suspend this new writ till they had paid the £516 (lines 42, 43) which would enable him to repair the house. He was therefore appealing to equity and good conscience when on 9 Feb 1652, he requested the High Court to subpoena his opponents to come and answer to the Lords Commissioners (lines 47-49).
2. Essence of SB jnr’s argument in his 2 Dec 1652 Bill of Complaint:32
1. In about 1639 JB snr pretended that his estate in the Manor of Sancey Rothamstead & Chivills was only life interest and that the reversion was settled on JB jnr (line 7).
2. Agreement for purchase of the reversion was therefore made between SB snr and JB jnr for a valuable consideration.
3. SB snr died c 1644, so the reversion descended to SB jnr.
4. Since 1644 JB snr has pretended that his estate was fee simple (owned absolutely) and that JB jnr had no reversion and therefore no right in 1639 to sell it (line 15).
5. JB snr and JB jnr have forged and antedated several deeds for parts of the premises.
6. JB snr is making great waste in the premises.
7. Request to subpoena JB snr and JB jnr to reveal what estate JB snr has and how it came to him.
8. Request for an injunction to stop more waste.
3. Essence of JB snr’s argument in his 13 Feb 1653 Plea & Demurrer:33
Plea 1: SB jnr has sold everything on to Mr Weedon, so he now has no right to sue JB snr.
Plea 2: SB jnr had declared an action v JB snr in the Court of Common Pleas last autumn regarding the same alledged wastes. This action is still depending.
Demurrer: SB jnr is trying to force JB snr to acknowledge the waste, which would mean JB snr would have to forfeit his estate and by law no one can be forced to do something which would have that result.
|1638||JB snr drew up deed of settlement. He said JB jnr ‘influenced the people drawing up the deed’.34||JB snr|
|1638||JB snr & jnr conveyed Saunceys to James Ellis35|
|1639||Treaty existed between SB snr and JB snr & jnr re purchase of Manor of Sancey Rothamstead & Chivills36||SB jnr|
|1642||Or bef spring/ summer 1643||Sale of reversionary interest by JB jnr37||JB snr, SB jnr|
|1643||Spring/Summer||1st writ of waste by SB snr38||JB snr|
|1644||Hillary||Writ of execution by SB snr39||JB snr|
|1644||Dec||SB snr dies40||JB snr|
|1651||late||JB snr’s writ of error which successfully sets aside the judgment from the 1st writ of waste41||JB snr|
|?||2nd writ of waste by SB jnr42||JB snr|
|?||JB snr & jnr ‘create secret estates and antedate the deeds’43||SB jnr|
|1652||9 Feb||JB snr’s writ of subpoena v SB jnr44||JB snr|
|1652||Autumn||3rd writ of waste by SB jnr – still depending in the Court of Common Pleas in Feb 1653|
|1652||2 Dec||SB jnr’s writ of subpoena v JB snr & jnr45||SB jnr|
|1653||Before Feb||SB jnr sold all his estate in the premises to Mr Weedon46||JB snr|
2. in the yeare of our Lord God One thowsand six hundred fifty ‘and’ five
3. I John Brockett of Whethamsted in the County of Hartford Esqr. Read more
4. being sicke in body but of good and perfect remembrance I praise
5. God doe make my last will and testament in manner followeing
6. First I give up my soule into the handes of Allmighty God hopeing
7. for mercy through Jesus Christ. I desire my body may be buried
8. in the parish Church of Wheathamsted neire vnto my father Item
9. I give vnto my eldest sonne John Brockett one shilling to be paid
10. him within one yeare after my decease. Item I give vnto my
11. younger sonne Edmond Brockett five shillinges to be paid ‘vnto him’ within
12. one yeare after my decease. Item I give ‘and bequeath’ vnto Elizabeth my loveing ‘wiefe’
13. all the rest of my goodes Chattelles debtes dues and rightes whatsoever
14. whom I make sole Executrix of this my laste will and testament
15. and hereby doe revoke all former willes by me heretofore made. In
16. witnes whereof I have herevn to putt my hand and seale the daie
17. and yeare above written : John Brokett. Read acknowledged
18. subscribed and sealed in the presence of George Brokett, the
19. marke of Joane Rudd Robert Greene snr.Probate: London the Fifeteenth day of February One thowsand six hundred fifty eight … by the oath of Elizabeth Brockett the relict and sole Executrix …
Too much can be read into Wills, but compared to other Esquires’ Wills from this century, indeed Gentlemen’s and even many Yeomen’s, this one is short and meagre. A token bequest for the eldest son was not so unusual, if property had already been passed on, but is less usual for both sons, and to allow 1 year for such small amounts to be raised from the estate is odd. It could imply that John had little to pass on and had fallen on hard times, and/or that there was some breach between father and sons. Neither daughter was mentioned.
The witness George Brokett was a son of the other John Brockett of Wheathampstead Esq. George was baptised in Wheathampstead 1624 and buried in Watford 1676. George’s brother Thomas was Executor of the Will of Edmond Brockett, with little doubt John of Caswell’s second son.
Page Last Updated: April 7, 2020